At the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked every diocesan bishop to open the Door of Mercy in his cathedral church. On the Third Sunday of Advent I duly opened the Door of Mercy at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham.
It was moving to stand on the threshold not only of the cathedral but of the Holy Year opening out ahead of us, and to imagine all those who will come on pilgrimage through the Door of Mercy in the course of this year.
The Door of Mercy represents Our Lord himself for he is both the Way and the Door into the sheepfold, admitting us into the presence of his merciful Father. The pathways of this Year of Mercy beckon all of us – lay faithful, Religious brothers and sisters, deacons, priests and bishops and even the Pope himself – to place ourselves in the Father’s merciful presence, to seek his forgiveness and at the same time to reflect the mercy we have received by showing mercy in our dealings with others.
Beyond the Door of Mercy in each cathedral and in the jubilee churches across every diocese the Holy Year pilgrim will become aware of the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need to think more carefully than ever about this remarkable sacrament of God’s mercy and how it gives us ready and unconditional access to the love of God in Christ.
In a recent interview the Holy Father mentioned that it is his custom to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation every two or three weeks. This sacramental encounter with Our Lord puts us into direct contact with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and it breaks our own hearts open both to receive mercy and to show forgiveness.
This disposition to mercy can be a fruit of the Holy Year, but only if we can take the steps needed to place ourselves before the Lord in Confession and experience the liberating and healing power of absolution.
All through the Jubilee Year of Mercy, at the beginning of each Mass we celebrate, we can cherish the act of repentance that we are invited to make, and especially the ancient and simple words that connect us with the first disciples of Christ.
Like them, we should not hesitate to sing or say Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy), Christe eleison (Christ, have mercy) with contrite hearts but be confident of the Lord’s generous and immediate response to us.
As Catholics, we are conscious of the bonds of faith and affection that hold us close to the communion of the saints and we invoke the saints to pray for us whenever we pray the Confiteor. We say: “… therefore I ask blessed Mary every Virgin, all the Angels and Saints … to pray for me to the Lord our God”. We draw strength from the prayers of each other and from the example of the saints.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy began on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. This feast reminds us that Mary was chosen and preserved from sin from the very beginning of her life in a wonderful gesture of divine mercy. God’s provident and merciful plan to rescue us from our slavery to sin through sending his beloved Son as the image of his own mercy began with a moment of merciful love in the creation of Mary.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation has been overseeing the Church’s celebration of this particular Holy Year. It has encouraged us to look for a reflection of God’s mercy, inspired by their contemplation of the life of Christ, in the example of the saints.
It is especially important to reflect on the lives of those holy men and women who are local to us or the pattern of whose lives has awakened in us a sense of God’s mercy at work in the world.
In the Archdiocese of Birmingham I have placed the Jubilee Year of Mercy under the patronage of two holy people. Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Italian Passionist priest who felt compelled to come to England, commends himself as a confessor who frequently travelled from his home in Staffordshire to reconcile many souls to God. Perhaps his most famous journey was from Stone to Oxford to hear the confession of Blessed John Henry Newman and to receive him into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Blessed Dominic’s extraordinary success as a confessor owed much to his example as a penitent and the impact that God’s forgiveness had on his own life.
Our other Holy Year patron is the Venerable Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. She was greatly moved by the poverty and need she saw in Dublin and used her considerable family fortune to establish the first House of Mercy, where she and her companions looked after many desperate and needy people in the city. Today the widespread family of the Sisters of Mercy continues this work in the spirit of Catherine.
Every diocese will have its own particular examples to set before us as an inspiration during the Year of Mercy. Perhaps they will help us to overcome any reluctance we may meet in our local communities to offer a place of welcome to the refugees and asylum seekers whom Pope Francis has urged us to care for.
In response to this we are hoping to establish our own “House of Mercy” in Birmingham in partnership with Fr Hudson’s Care, our diocesan social care agency, together with the civic authorities, as a refuge for those who have lost so much in their homelands in the Middle East.
When we enter through the Door of Mercy we cannot be certain where it will lead. Confessing our sins and being reconciled to God and our neighbour can open up some unforeseen possibilities for the future. Being touched by the loving mercy of God can dispose us to find new ways to use our energy for the wellbeing of others.
Beyond the Door of Mercy we see the example of the saints in a fresh light, and following them we find ourselves closer to the Lord whom they love. May the merciful love of Christ give us courage to cross the threshold of mercy in the year ahead.
The Most Rev Bernard Longley is the Archbishop of Birmingham
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